'Bring back our flag': Students protest Pride flag removal at St. Edward's University
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Speeches as well as chants of “bring back our flag” rang out Tuesday from the center of the St. Edward’s University campus in south Austin. Students and faculty members gathered to protest a decision to remove and relocate an LGBTQ+ Pride flag from one facility to another.

The university shared the flag got taken down last summer from an on-campus coffee shop during a redesign of the space. However, students said they repeatedly asked the administration to put it back on display there, creating an Instagram account dedicated to sharing people’s thoughts about what it meant to see the flag hanging in the coffee shop.

“Removing it from such a public space and refusing to put it back up from such a public space has left a sour taste in the mouth of our students and faculty,” Mackenna Bierschenk, a junior studying biochemistry, said.

In a statement shared with KXAN, St. Edward’s University wrote the flag is now displayed at a different spot on campus.

“The flag was moved to a location where we celebrate all identities in Equity Hall,” the statement read. “The university is actively working with our students on ways to visibly highlight our welcoming environment for all students on the hilltop.”

A university spokesperson has yet to respond to a request for further clarification about what those ways include and whether a picture can be shared of the flag’s new location. This story will be updated once any updates are passed along.

Bierschenk criticized where the flag is currently placed. She said it’s now only visible in a lounge that requires a student key card to access, so no one can see it simply by walking into Equity Hall. That’s a marked difference, she said, from the coffee shop, which is in an area of campus with a lot of foot traffic and frequented by tour groups of prospective students.

“This university likes to capitalize and likes to advertise that they have a lot of diversity and inclusion,” Bierschenk said, “when in reality, we have to have a protest just to have a Pride flag installed back to a public coffee house on campus.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s protest on campus, an online petition began circulating that called for St. Edward’s to bring the Pride flag back to the coffee shop. As of Tuesday afternoon, it garnered digital signatures from more than 600 people.

A message by the petition’s creator read, “The pride flag that hung up within the Saint Edwards campus coffee shop was a symbol of hope, a symbol of belonging. Countless others and myself were drawn to this institution because of its (former) fierce commitment to equality. Now that the flag is gone, and administration continually refuses [to] replace it, action needs to be taken. The St. Edwards community wants to be heard!”

Last week the St. Edward’s Student Government Association Senate publicized a meeting “to discuss student concerns surrounding diversity and inclusion as well as symbols of inclusion on campus.” According to the group’s social media post, the administrators in attendance included the university’s president, Dr. Montserrat Fuentes, as well as Dr. Lisa Kirkpatrick, the vice president for student affairs, and Erica Zamora, the director of student belonging and inclusive excellence.

Journalists from the student-run Hilltop Views wrote that administrators barred them from covering the meeting. Their article included a picture of a sign taped to a window that read, “Out of respect for all participants in today’s Senate Meeting (February 21st) and working to provide psychological and physical safety for all in attendance, no media coverage will be allowed at tonight’s meeting.”

One of the reporters who went to the meeting said they got pulled outside, where they said Fuentes and Kirkpatrick told them “Hilltop Views would not be permitted to cover the meeting.” According to the reporting, the student later returned to the meeting and “covered all but the community discussion about the Pride flag issue.”

In its statement Tuesday, St. Edward’s University explained its reasoning for preventing students from reporting on the discussion.

“The Student Government Association meeting was an authentic conversation to be together within our own community with the purpose of offering support and listening to students,” the statement read. “The university prioritized psychological safety so that those who may feel vulnerable could participate fully. That is the reason why the media was asked to not participate as we have in similar circumstances in the past.”

St. Edward’s University statement

Some students told KXAN they’re concerned the flag’s removal could be a consequence of the heightened scrutiny facing higher education from a new state law. Senate Bill 17 went into effect on Jan. 1, and it requires public universities in Texas to no longer have offices dedicated to DEI, which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion, or employees focused specifically on that purpose. The law does not mention anything about preventing public institutions from displaying Pride flags, but reporting from KXAN reveals it did lead to the closure of some campus LGBTQ+ centers.

The law does not apply to St. Edward’s since it’s a private university.

That’s also what makes the students who protested Tuesday, like Bierschenk, question why administrators are ignoring their calls.

“In simplistic terms, it is really just a piece of cloth with thumbtacks you could put up, but you are for some reason refusing to,” she said.

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